As one care health provider talks about vis-à-vis the UHIP project in Detroit, Michigan:
[When] you lack resources, you lack maybe food on [the] table, maybe a place to live, you don’t have a job. It makes you more vulnerable and it makes you, your focusing on this, the, you’re dealing with disadvantages and it doesn’t necessarily allow you if you’re given the, the HIV prevention information that you need to just focus on that information so it creates a lot of hardships in people’s lives and this just becomes one more issue in your life.
This quote resonates with me a lot because it underscores how ‘going without’ can negatively impact your ability to promote and maintain a sexually healthy lifestyle. Consider the following scenario: as an undergraduate student at an elite university, I had access to our University Health Service, a free health clinic on campus. This meant I could see a physician about a cold, a headache, or a fever whenever I wanted. It also meant I could get STI checks every 2-3 months with relative ease.
But what if I weren’t a university student whose tuition paid for routine STI testing? What if I were 17 years old again – a newly ‘out’ gay boy with no car, no job, no health insurance, and no emotional support from my family? How do I afford the $74.00 HIV test from Planned Parenthood? I could go to the public health clinic, but it is nearly 10.8 miles away from my house. I could use public transportation, but it would take 1 hour and 18 minutes for me to get there – time I really don’t have when I’m in school from 8:00am-3:00pm, Monday through Friday. I could ask my parents to take me to the doctor, but do I really want to risk another confrontation with my mother about how I’ve failed her as a son?
It’s important to note that, as a 17-year-old boy, I wasn’t looking for reasons not to get tested. Rather, I was caught in web of factors that were largely out of my control. I couldn’t really help the fact that the HIV test cost $74.00 or that the public health clinic was so far away from me. All I could do was try to figure out how I could overcome the ridiculous obstacles put in front of me.
But, after a while, you begin to ask yourself: why should I have to pay the unforeseen costs of safe(r) sex – especially when it’s easier for me to choose the ‘or else?’